In a bit of a departure from bourbon reviews, today, we’re taking a look at ‘BHAKTA 50’ 100% Armagnac Finished in Islay Whisky Casks. Stick with me because this closely ties back to some of our previous content and if you’re a fan of the brandy category, Islay Whisky, or vintage spirits, you’ll want to know about BHAKTA 50. But first, an exceedingly brief lesson in brandy. While whisk(e)y is the parent category of spirits such as Scotch and Bourbon; brandy is the parent category of Cognac, Armagnac, and American Brandy. And like Bourbon is a type of whiskey made in the United States, Armagnac is a type of brandy made in the Armagnac region of southwest France. Like whiskey must be made from grain, brandy must be made from fruit (grapes, apples, peaches etc).
Why are we talking about brandy? My interest in brandy began long before my appreciation for Bourbon. Walking through a Binny’s circa 2006 I asked for a recommendation and the fellow pointed me towards the Armagnac aisle. In his opinion Armagnac was a special category of brandy often underappreciated. An excellent value and an excitingly complex and delicious flavor. For me, Armagnac holds a special place in my spirits journey.
To tell the whole story of Bhakta Brandy will take more time than we have in this review (but I promise this is in the works). We’ll start with Bhakta Founder, and it’s namesake, Raj Peter Bhakta. If that name sounds familiar it could be from his 2004 appearance on the TV show ‘The Apprentice’, his 2006 run for congress, or, more likely as a reader of this blog, because he’s the Founder of WhistlePig Rye Whiskey. In 2007 Raj purchased a farm in Vermont and began building WhistlePig with the late Dave Pickerell. He launched the brand in 2010 and grew it into one of the most successful premium whiskey brands in the United States. Raj parted ways with WhistlePig in 2019 and set off to travel the world in search of rare spirits. With his family at his side, Raj reached France and, recalling the success of WhistlePig Boss Hog: The Black Prince (rye whiskey finished in Armagnac casks), he traveled to the Armagnac region of France. As I said before, this story is elaborate so for now I’ll be brief. Raj came upon vast reserves of Armagnac distilled as long ago as 1868. And so his quest began to once again create a premium spirits category unlike anything else on the market today.
BHAKTA 50 is released in individual blended barrels. Each barrel is a unique blend of vintages. Barrel 1 “Hogsworth” (Sold Out), Barrel 2 “Revival” (Sold Out), and Barrel 3 “Pendragon” (Available Here) are the first of 38 barrels planned for release this year. There is a special “Stockholder Collection” program for those interested in collecting all bottles and being privy to other exclusive benefits. I was told this program is limited to 125 people and is mostly spoken for. If interested please reach out to me asap for more details. firstname.lastname@example.org
Name: BHAKTA 50 Barrel 3: Pendragon
Distiller: N/A (France)
Bottler: Bhakta Farms (Vermont)
Type of Producer: Non-Distiller Producer (for now…)
Year Established: 2020
Bottling Proof: 90
Age: 50 years (Vintages: 1868, 1897, 1939, 1946, 1952, 1963, 1964, 1970)
Style: Armagnac Finished in Islay Whisky Casks (Armagnac aged 50+ years, blended, finished 2 weeks in Islay Scotch casks, finished 1 additional week in an Armagnac cask)
Release Date: Mid 2020
Release Type: Extremely Limited
Availability: Online HERE
MSRP: $299 (750ml)
Tasted: BHAKTA 50 (Barrel 3 “Pendragon”)
Soft and sweet
Interestingly little to no peat, smoke, or Scotch notes on the nose
Light and airy
Sweet ripe fruit gives way to pepper and hints of smoke
My first sip was a bit of a WOW moment. The palate bounces between light and fruity brandy notes and hints of Islay’s signature smoked peat.
The Armagnac and Scotch play off each other’s strengths, neither overwhelms the other. Instead, they combine to create something new and exciting that I found myself revisiting until there wasn’t a drop left in my sample bottle.
While a straight pour expressed more of the Armagnac on the palate, adding water teased out more of the peaty Scotch notes.
Light to Medium
A long finish that leans to the Scotch influence and lingers on the tongue.
A touch of cigar smoke at the very end.
When you’re sipping this brandy think of the history. The oldest liquid in your glass was distilled 152 years ago. Think about what the world was like when this brandy dripped off of a wood-fired still on a French countryside and into a lightly toasted barrel where it would patiently sit for decades. What has this amber-hued liquid witnessed in its lifetime? BHAKTA 50 is an interesting spirit, really a combination of two spirit families. The liquid itself is impressive and I believe a worthwhile pour for avid whiskey drinkers and rare spirits collectors alike.
Bhakta Farms is working to create a new category. It will be interesting to see if Raj and the team can recreate the success he had with bringing premium rye whiskey into the spotlight. This is the beginning of a journey with much more to come. We’ll be following Bhakta Brandy as their story unfolds.